I truly hoped the wilting leaves on my apples were a fungal issue, but it soon became clear that I’ve joined the ranks of those infected with fire blight in our area.
Frankly, the trees are dying at alarming rates in a lot of peoples’ backyards, so I’ve been knee deep in fire blight research.
I had to severely prune my favorite Fireside tree, and there are a few more spots I need to cut off. I think it’ll live, but it’s only if I can protect the rest of it from the fire blight bacteria. The others, Haralred and Red Regent, had a few infected branches, but I think they will be fine.
Friends of mine who live nearby weren’t so lucky. Their mature orchard took a beating, and there are a number of trees just in our neighborhood that are in rough shape. (I’m still wondering how I approach them to let them know what’s happening. “Hi! Can I take a picture of your grossly infected tree for an article I’m writing?”)
Control Fire Blight
The good news is there are more options for people who want to control fire blight without resorting to antibiotics. At the moment, streptomycin is still permitted in organic production, although there’s speculation that this will be short lived. Thankfully, a European company developed a yeast based product called Blossom Protect that really works. Basically, the yeast takes up the space on the blossom reducing the opportunity for the fire blight bacteria to take hold.
If you use a lime sulfur spray in the spring, you have to wait until the blossoms are open about 70 percent before you apply the Blossom Protect. Lime sulfur makes the tree lose blossoms, which of course reduces the places fire blight can infect. It also acts as a bactericide to some degree. Unfortunately, this quality will kill the yeast in the Blossom Protect. But when applied correctly, the combination seems to work well together.
The other option is an old-fashioned copper spray that has been around for decades. The bad thing about the traditional copper sprays is they can russet the leaves and damage the skin of the fruit. Thankfully, there are a couple of newer formulations (Cueva and Previsto) that show less of an issue with the foliage and fruit problems. I’m planning on spraying my trees right before dormancy with a copper spray in order to minimize fire blight transmission through the dropped leaves, because the copper will kill it on the surface of leaves and such. It won’t stop the problem, but I figure it can’t hurt.
Timing is probably the greatest factor in successfully battling blight. My goal this winter is to learn the MaryBlyt computer program so I can properly apply the spray, whether I use up the streptomycin I have on hand or find a source for Blossom Protect™. MaryBlyt uses daytime temperatures and rainfall predictions in order to let you know when to apply the treatments to catch the fire blight at the best times. The most recent (to date) download of MaryBlyt is available at: http://www.caf.wvu.edu/kearneysville/Maryblyt/index.html Learn to use it before it’s time to spray!
Fire blight is horrible. What looked like our most productive apple season since we started planting our little trees, has now turned into a year where my goal is to keep the trees from dying. But, since most growers are “next year” type folks, I have to look ahead to know what I’m doing now will be worth it the following season.